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ARE YOU READY FOR Y2K?

"5, 4, 3, 2, 1 ... Happy New Millennium!"

Out with the old and in with the new! The year 2000 is almost upon us. Will it arrive infected with the "Y2K bug?"

The Y2K computer problem can trace its roots to the early days of computer programming when computer memory was very expensive. Rather than waste memory storing a four-numbered year, early programmers used only the last two digits of each year.

Most were unconcerned with the year 2000 because it seemed so far away. Surely, they thought, the programs they were writing wouldn't still be in use by the next millennium. But many of them are. Now the concern is that some computers will read "00" and think it is 1900. If they do, will they crash?

What do high school students think about Y2K?

"Computers are going to go crazy. People are going to go crazy. People are going to take money out of the banks and there won't be enough. Prices will go up," said Pete Brown, a freshman at Olean High School.

Like Pete, others are worried. One student's aunt is stocking up on gasoline because "she needs to use her car." Corey Schachter, an Olean freshman, will be traveling from Colorado on New Year's Eve. He is "concerned" about travel delays. Some students, like Josh Anderson, another Olean freshman, have plans in case something does happen.

"If necessary, we have a wood stove and will cut down trees to heat our house. We will melt snow for water," said Josh.

But not everyone is concerned. Brad Childs, a junior at Olean, "doesn't think anything is going to happen." Brad's response to the potential danger: "Wasn't the world supposed to end a few years ago?"

Heather Cousins, an Olean junior believes "people are going crazy over nothing."

James Simon, a junior at Olean, similarly thinks "we've done all we can to prevent the problem."

Technology directors at local high schools have dedicated the majority of their time in recent months preparing their schools for Y2K. David Lasky, technology director for the Olean schools, believes the problem is under control. "We have checked our critical systems which include heating, clocks and elevators. In the past week, administrative applications and servers have all been fixed."

Lasky is concerned with individual student workstations, which have not yet been checked. "We will let (the student workstations) go and see if they work after the new year."

Steve Ludwig, technology director at Clarence Central Schools, has also "done quite a bit" to ensure Y2K is not a problem. "We started about a year ago with our servers. We checked all workstations, alarms and heating systems. Machines not really usable (due to software-related Y2K issues) were put where it doesn't matter."

Ludwig credits excellent planning for eliminating what potentially could have been a disaster.

"Starting when we did, (fixing our systems), it didn't take an overwhelming amount of time. We set up committees to identify what systems may be OK. When we were upgrading, we looked at Y2K compliance as criteria for purchasing (new computers)."

There are many things we computer users can do to ensure our own personal computers are protected. Relatively inexpensive software such as "Year 2000 Detect and Correct" (Parsons Technology Inc., $20) detects if your computer has a Y2K problem and then corrects the problem.

Y2K "patches" are another simple (and free) way to solve the Y2K problem on your machine at home. A "patch" is a free program downloaded off the Internet that fixes the Y2K problem on a specific software title.

What software, if any, do you need to update? If you are using Windows '95 or the first edition of Windows '98, you need to update your system immediately.

Run to your computer, and type in www.download.com. Under search, type in "Y2K patch" and click the "Search" button. Click on "Windows '95 Update" or "Windows '98 Update" depending on your system. The description tells exactly what needs to be updated and how to download and run the update. Print out this page, it may come in handy, and click on "download now." Nearly half a million people have downloaded the Windows updates through this Web site. Patches for other software titles are available through microsoft.com/downloads.

According to the Apple Web site, if you own a Macintosh computer, your system is safe. Apple claims its systems "can handle internally generated dates correctly all the way to the year 29,940." Still, it would be nice to be absolutely certain. To check your Apple operating system, hardware and software applications, type in www.apple.com/about/year 2000.

Even if computers don't fail, other potential problems may exist with the coming of the year 2000. Some computer experts are worried that viruses may be set to damage computers with the changing of the calendar. One virus has already been discovered that is sent via e-mail and will erase data when Jan. 1 arrives.

Other than debugging your computers, what else should you do? As with any possible disaster, experts recommend having canned goods, a non-electric can opener, a battery-powered radio, bottled water and flashlights available.

Going beyond this is probably unnecessary. Most high school students I interviewed believe that Y2K survivalist stores are simply profiting off others' fears.

Devin Thropp, an Olean sophomore, noted: "Some people are trying to make more of it than it really is and it's all a hoax."

In the worst case, people may buy too much food, gasoline, water or withdraw large amounts of money from the bank. Still, this should not cause a shortage since this has all been anticipated and extra supplies will be available. While other countries may experience serious problems, especially developing countries, we are truly in good shape.

So go out this New Year's Eve and have fun! But remember to bring a flashlight ... just in case.

Chris Catalano is a senior at Olean High School.

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